Fifteen Minutes: Endpaper: Veins in My Teeth

This is my pan to kidney, liver, stomach, intestine and other such meats. It's also my song to meat cooked

This is my pan to kidney, liver, stomach, intestine and other such meats. It's also my song to meat cooked rare and my ode to meat presented so you can tell what animal it came from. Haggis, bloody steaks and fish cheeks--I salute you.

I suppose it's partly a function of national origin. For any of you who've had the pleasure of tasting Singaporean food, you'll recognize that it's a food borne of a culture that does not waste, where some of the greatest culinary pleasures, such as kway chap (flat noodles with pig's stomach and intestines) and fish-head curry (self-explanatory), come from scraps. I am struck by the American aversion to eating internal organs or to dishes which too closely resemble the animal that bore them. It sometimes strikes me as disguised snobbery. Land of plenty, no need to eat the cheap parts--let's stigmatize all those poor people who have to. I wonder about the way people mock chitlin-eating: is it a disguised middle-class attack on the lower classes?

I'm generalizing, of course. Many Americans eat what they want, and thankfully so, since my efforts alone aren't enough to keep tripe on the menu at Pho Pasteur (hey, I'm trying). But recently a New Yorker article exposed a group of Manhattanites who have banded together in order to indulge their clandestine love of offal, which proves that offal-eating is generally looked down upon in the States as inherently unclean.

But if you're going to eat meat, there's no real reason the internal organs, properly cooked, should be any less clean than regular meat. After all, at least those parts of the animal don't touch the soil or grass. For that matter, a piece of cabbage, seeing as it's pulled off the soil, is pretty disgusting. Organ meats cooked well achieve a level of intensity no chicken-breast dish can ever hope to match. It's odd that organ meats tend to fall either in the lowest end or the highest end of the culinary caste system.

Over the summer, while working at Let's Go, I often debated the quality of British food, which set me to thinking. I quite like British food if cooked well. Most people, however, have rarely experienced it done well, only well done. Still, I can appreciate a culinary evaluation of food where one argues that a particular item just tastes bad, pure and simple. But the crux of my opponents' arguments was often that British food is bad because it involves eating the kidneys and other internal organs. By that token, strike out French food as being a gastronomic delight. Foie gras? Shock, horror.

Or consider sausages. Whenever I declare my love for the humble frankfurter, I invariably confront an inquisition: "Do you know what parts of the animal it comes from?" someone asks. Well, not really, but I'm guessing it's any part of the pig or cow that wasn't processed into other forms of meat. And so? If I like the taste, and the meat meets food-safety standards, should I be worried?

Now I have no quarrel with people who avoid eating particular or all meats because of religious or moral reasons--vegetarians, Buddhists, et al. For that matter, I'm willing to concede that taste is subjective enough that people may just not like the taste of organ meat. My issue is with those people who pull faces at eating certain parts out of some false notion of intrinsic 'uncleanliness,' and, worse than that, to consider the very act of eating offal beyond their ken, beyond their realm of comprehension. I call this the 'how could you eat those parts?' school of thought: some people seem to take it as a God-given fact that anyone who eats anything that looks like the original animal or comes from an 'unclean' part is committing an abomination. Far be it from me to dictate what anyone should eat; still, if I'm willing to accept that some people eat foods which I wouldn't touch with a spoon (hello, broccoli!) and don't consider them filthy people, I don't think my love for offal should provoke disgust.

I have the same beef (!) with people who pull faces at me for eating rare meat, just because the taste of blood still lingers. For one, it's the tastiest form of meat available. Point of fact: chefs in quality restaurants will choose the worst cuts of meat for people who order their meat well-done, since it's hard for anyone to tell the difference in quality anyway when food is cooked that way. Or, as Chef Anthony Bourdain puts it more succinctly, ordering meat well-done is paying "for the privilege of eating [the] garbage." More importantly, the whole disgust with blood seems at least in part to be some form of self-denial: yes, we kill animals, but let's not think about that when we eat them, shall we?

Admittedly, this division between seeing meat on one's plate and recognizing the animal it comes from has long been a part of Anglo-Saxon culture, a part that one pitiful little endpaper like this could hardly hope to explode. Consider the fact that the meats in the English language have different names from the animals they come from (pig, pork; deer, venison; cow, beef) because the Norman rulers in England were the ones who got to enjoy meat while the poor peasants could only herd the animals, or at best raise them for dairy products. But that doesn't excuse baseless assumptions. It's always good to analyze the source of one's sense of repulsion: as a meat-eater, is it justifiable that I look down on other meats as unclean, or is it just received wisdom?

So I maintain that part of having a healthy, organic relationship with food is eating meat that looks like meat, slightly pink, with blood. It's not bloodthirsty; it's just an acknowledgement of gastronomical truth. Of course, the dining hall is hardly a good location to start scouting for meat cooked rare. I suspect this is to avoid being sued: no one gets food poisoning from overcooked meals. And I'm not sure I would fully trust rare meat in such a situation of mass handling anyway. But the next time, dear reader, you find yourself in a quality restaurant, try ordering rare. Or order fish cheeks, if you can--possibly the best-tasting part of the fish. Even better yet: order tripe or liver.

At least being vegetarian avoids the whole ritual of denial. People don't seem to have the urge to pulverize vegetables beyond the point of recognition--I can pretty much tell what vegetables are in any salad. But if you are a carnivorous human, don't give me any jive about something being wrong to eat because it reminds you of what the animal was. Better the regret than the denial; nothing like the bittersweet recognition that something had to give for you to have your meal. It's good for your psyche. No meal should be a lie.

Daryl Sng '01 edits music for The Crimson. His cholesterol is 261, but his blood pressure is 71/40. He adores NaCl.